“Saturday Night Live” looked like a different show compared with the last live episode we saw a month ago, pre-Olympics.
In the Feb. 1 episode, Andy Samberg, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen all visited the "Weekend Update" desk to say goodbye to their old friend Seth Meyers. In this weekend's episode, in which Colin Jost made his debut as "Update" co-host, one got the sense that this is a new generation on “SNL,” and that from now on it might be awhile before the audience sees cameos from the old guard, because the old guard has all definitively moved on.
That’s not a bad thing. Instead of relying on lots of recurring sketches or the news that’s built up since the show last aired, “SNL,” helmed by Jim Parsons (who was a good and game host but didn’t seem quite as relaxed and silly as one might have expected a TV veteran like him to be), led with some weirder, non-topical sketches that in another episode might have been left for those special 10 minutes at the end of the show, where some of the most wonderful and weird scenes are typically hidden.
Take, for instance, Aidy Bryant as “Tonkerbell,” Tinkerbell’s half-sister who talks like … well, it’s hard to describe exactly what she talks like, but she says things like “My dad is a housefly.…He did trick my mom and that’s whassup,” or, whenever she proves someone wrong, “You just got Tonked.” The sketch teetered into an uncomfortable territory as Tonkerbell talked about her attraction to a 9-year-old Lost Boy whom she thought was 22 (“That’s a damn, then”), but that added an unpredictability to the sketch. Besides, we all know what it’s like to feel like we’re fairies who just ate our way out of a human-sized hamburger, right?
If Tonkerbell wasn’t weird enough for you, there was “The Bird Bible,” a commercial for a “cool” children’s Bible that’s illustrated with photos of birds instead of the characters from biblical stories. A bizarre premise, boosted by Kate McKinnon’s scary dead-eyed mother stare (“The birds make it seem more real”), made it into the sketch that a viewer would either love or hate, depending on his or her preference for “random” humor.
The episode did feature a few timely sketches in honor of the Oscars. McKinnon brought back her Ellen Degeneres (“So good to see all your 42-year-old faces,” she greeted her talk show audience) which was a platform for Jim Parsons to demonstrate that he looks exactly like Olympics commentator Johnny Weir, borrowing a well-used but still funny bit from “Conan,” where the camera cut away and back to Parsons as he added more outrageous elements to his outfit.
The Oscars also got their due during a bit about casting “12 Years a Slave,” wherein white actors were encouraged to improv and let loose during their auditions, but they were reluctant to read the racist dialogue, especially with cameraman Jay Pharoah in the room. It was a clever way to send up a very serious movie, but it also felt like previously trodden ground for “SNL”; the Feb. 1 episode also featured a video that played up white guilt for laughs. (Not that it isn’t funny, but it would be good to explore new territory.)
How did Colin Jost do on "Update"? After Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong at the desk, it’s been awhile since the show featured someone hosting the news segment who was not already a familiar face on the show (about thirteen years, to be precise, since Tina Fey stepped from the writers’ room to the desk.) After a sincere on-camera welcome from Strong, Jost settled into the role, with arguably his best jokes being that Piers Morgan is slowly morphing into a potato (with a photo to prove it) and that Paula Deen’s publicist leaves statements via suicide note.
It will take awhile before the viewers start to figure out Jost’s tone and sense of humor, but eventually he and Strong will be the old guard moving on to greener pastures (when Jost inevitably replaces Seth Meyers who will replace Jimmy Fallon who will go join Jay Leno in classic car retirement heaven.) After all, many years ago, musical guest Beck was just the guy who did that song “Loser” and now he’s appeared on the show seven times and is considered by many to be a musical genius. Plus, he barely ages:
“SNL” returns live next week with Lena Dunham as host and the National as musical guest.